My dreams have always been important to me. I live and work and play as much in dreamland as I do in waking life. In my dreams I make discoveries, solve my problems and create my projects. I dream in color most of the time. You might wonder what my dreams have to do with my family tree …
One of the dreams that I think about often when I think about my dreaming is this one that I had maybe twenty years ago:
I was walking across the desert, in the Southwest, the bright desert sunlight burning into my very soul. My face and arms were red with sunburn, and while I couldn’t feel it one way or the other, the sunburn made me glow and look healthy. I was wearing white – white linen pants, and a white linen button down shirt. I wore canvas shoes and carried a rucksack with not much in it, maybe a change of clothes and sketchbook. A warm wind blew in a westerly direction, I seemed to be walking towards the northeast, which made my pants and shirt flap in soft willows about me. I seemed to know where I was going and I walked across the dusty southwest land, towards a line of mountains, for a very long time. Eventually I came upon an old Indian man sitting on a rock in the sun. Finally, he said, and smiled. We’ve been waiting for you for a long time. Come.
Sometimes, in waking life, I also have moments where things happen that are not clear in the moment, but for some reason they are experiences that I know, that while small, are really important, or revealing.
In waking life, I once was riding the MUNI 22 through the Filmore District of San Francisco. It’s a long route on the bus line, and I was traveling from the Lower Haight over to Pacific Heights. This bus was always crowded and I took the only seat available, next to an obviously Native American young man. He had tattoos going down both arms, and I asked him about them. While some people may have been intimidated by him, I touched his arm and asked him what his tattoos meant. He said that he was a Seneca Native American, from the reservation in New York. He explained that tattoos were a way of keeping a record of important life events. Right now I can’t remember his specific tattoos, but I remember connecting with him in a weird way, and only for a moment, because it was time for me to get off of the bus. I kept the memory of him, and of the comfortableness of speaking with him, with me.
Last year as I filled out form after form in the family tree, on my Mom’s side of the family there seemed to be a connection, a mention here and there, of Indian this or Indian that. I didn’t understand it, because when I first started working on the tree I didn’t easily remember the stories from when I was a child. But as I went back in the history, they came to the surface and became clearer. When I found my 5th Great-Grandfather, Georg Lichtenberger (January 22, 1737 – June 1814), I finally found the link.
His first wife, Elizabeth, was a Seneca woman from Venango County in western Pennsylvania. She was my fifth great-grandmother.
There are many references to the Seneca in Western Pennsylvania culture. But I never thought of myself as being a part of it, or it being a part of me.
When I searched online about Seneca culture, there were two things that stood out, two things that were mentioned as two of the most important aspects to the culture – dreams and tatoos.
There’s more to this story … for another day.